Author Archives: urzsmith

Ending… Telepathically

In the world of Kimon, a fictional world created by Simak in his story Immigrant, the inhabitants of the planet were highly evolved, telepathic individuals.  In a sense, the population was enlightened.  By communicating telepathically, they connected with each other and everyone around them in ways humans cannot fathom.  This connection resulted in an incredible capacity for empathy, compassion, and honesty.  Any text on enlightenment would describe enlightenment as such.

In the story, select humans were allowed to come and pursue job opportunities.  Of course, being an enlightened species, the model of communication and understanding differed so greatly that few humans were able to comprehend it.  While most characters in the story settled in their old models, one did not, and upon intense introspection, found himself invited to learn the new model.

So, how does this relate to anything?  To the internet?  To agriculture?  To evolution?

We, humans, will evolve.  We will evolve our technology.  We will evolve our culture.  We will evolve our model.  While we may or may not develop innate telepathic capabilities, it doesn’t matter, because we already have in our existence telepathic tools.  The Internet.  At our fingertips, we have almost infinite information, almost infinite possibilities for global communication- and much less of a reason “not to know.”  Technology is still external of us, and may always stay that way, which (currently) excuses our ignorance, but the model will change.  The model will state that technology is an integral component of your life, and if you do not adapt, you do not survive.  We will become telepathic in our own way.  You will drive by a farm and know what that farm entails.  You will know your neighbors.  You will know your world.  You will know, and because you know, you cannot be ignorant.  You cannot live in denial.

Evolved technology, the widespread adoption of the Internet, will expedite our capacity for telepathy.  We will become Kimon.  We will become enlightened.  We will learn to experience all things with a “simultaneous awareness of a complex group of causes and effects.”  We cannot imagine what this will do to us.

To always be on.

To be enlightened.

To see things as they are, for what they are.

Compassionate.  Empathetic.

Where would we go?

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Agriculture to Empathy… Continuing… Evolving

Our technological capacities are staggering.  We have the potential to collect, analyze, and communicate the intricacies of our ecological systems to everyone, everywhere, instantaneously.  Farm technology and advances in agricultural science allow producers to understand their land on every ecological, economical, and molecular level.  Inputs and outputs are understood, monitored, and tracked in real time by highly sophisticated equipment directed by GPS technology.  If there is a problem, the farmer will know.  Moreover, that farmer will communicate.  They will communicate with scientists, with industries, and together, they will solve the problem.  And then, the solution will be communicated to everyone, everywhere, instantaneously.  And that, I believe, is a good thing.

But agriculture, as important as it is, is still only a facet of the diamond.  What can be applied to agriculture can be applied elsewhere.  Understanding and communication, it is generally agreed upon, are signs of intelligence.  They are essential components of empathy and compassion.  The more you understand, the more you empathize, the harder it becomes to live in ignorance, to breed denial, and to shrug your shoulders in apathy.  Most technology, especially the Internet, tends to facilitate understanding and communication.  And so long as our technology is used for understanding and communication, and so long as we continue to evolve with our technology, and so long as technology becomes more integrated into our everyday lives, it will become a willful act to be ignorant.  Even better, evolutionarily speaking, in such a world, ignorance would not survive.

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To begin…

When I drive, as we all do, we pass farms.  We see fields of wheat or pasture, grazing cattle, or rows of soybean and corn.  Even more, we see something that is hard to describe in words.  That something is the reason why farms are the subject of paintings, photography, music, and poems.  Tranquility doesn’t quite explain it, but it’s a start.  But more importantly, farms also provide us the food we eat.  The work is hard, the hours are endless, and the natural world is brutal.  It’s a very different scene in the eyes of the farmer.  They carry a burden that few of us will experience.  The food that magically appears in our grocery stores must come from somewhere, and most of us have no idea where that where is.  Or what it takes for that magic to happen.  Inspiration is empowering, and if farms provide that, then by all means, let it happen.  But farms are more.  They are the backbone of every civilization.  If agriculture falls, everything falls.  Inspiration is critical in our world, but having an acute perception of reality is why we will survive.  And why we will progress.  This is not to say that inspiration and reality are separated- they shouldn’t be, but we can view it as such, and sometimes reality is compromised by idealism.

But learning to walk that fine line is the topic of another day.

I challenge you, the next time you pass a farm, to see the reality.  I challenge you to view that tranquil scene as data- data that will make us better- data that will let us progress.  I challenge you to see that scene as an ecological system, with almost infinite biological interactions, moving, working, in unison and in conflict, together, making that system work, allowing that crop to grow, so that we can eat.  I challenge you to imagine, where we might be, where we might evolve, if we could understand that system.

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A Conversation With Myself- Post Prelim Havoc

(Irrelevant to class, but for some reason, I feel compelled to share, which is very unlike me)

I am listening.  I am listening to you.  You are me, and I am you, and I know I should listen.  What are you telling me?

I am telling you everything.  You have so many questions, and I provide you all the answers, and you do not listen.  You ignore your emotions, you succumb to your irrationality, and you have forgotten what I sound like.  You are so caught in the trap, you are so chained to the wall, your eyes have gotten weaker by your limited gaze, your muscles have atrophied, and your memory is dissipating.  You have forgotten freedom and youth, burdened by the excess of culture and expectation.  You live like everyone else, and everyone accepts you for it.  Resignation is normative.  Your inner child is dying.  You will eventually feel nothing, and soon after, you will forget how to feel.

As much as you like to say “This is it,” you do not come close to embodying it.  You repeat yourself like a broken record, just scratching the surface, and never delving further.  You are going to die.  Your time is everything you have.  The social constructs of time make you believe you are inherently doing something when you are doing nothing.  By the passing of a day, you succeed without succeeding.  You watch progression without progressing.  You live vicariously through the passage of time in attempts to justify your passage of time, meaning, you use time itself as achievement.  When you say “Here’s to another day,” you validate your meager existence without reason.  You let the inevitable passage of time do the work for you, and you attempt to reap the benefits.  However, and you know, that deep down, those attempts are feeble.  They are not satisfying.  You are not content.

Time means nothing and time means everything.  And in any given situation, you tend to confuse the two.  When time really means nothing, you give it meaning.  When time really means something, you give it no meaning.  And thus the strange conundrum of your life- that you find yourself walking away from the moments that give your life meaning, and embracing the moments that give you nothing.  When the dying say “I wish I hadn’t worked so much”- this is what they are saying.

When you woke up this morning, that feeling of recursion was overwhelming.  I am giving you that feeling.  And finally, you listened.  Are you aware?  Are you willing to repeat this tomorrow?  Is that what you want?

You are angry.  I am giving you that feeling.  Why?  So that you will listen.  Five years of anticipation that did not result in an equal serving of satisfaction.  Of course you should be angry.  Your reliance on external validation failed miserably and it will continue to fail.  Because you listen to everyone else before you listen to me.  I will eventually get tired of trying.  You do not want that.

What are you becoming?

In the end, on the last day, what you became will have to face me.  I do not like to be disappointed and I will let you know.  And it’s your last day.

Think about it.

And come talk to me more often.

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Cyberspace As The Wild West

“It was clear that we were not in control,” Morningstar and Farmer concluded.  Their Habitat was a wild-land.  It was lawless.  It was completely free.  In other words, it was, on some level, the last frontier.

For us, the Internet is the last frontier.  It represents opportunity.  Nobody really knows what’s out there, or what to do about it.  It’s an uncharted exploration, and because of that, no one can tell you what to do, because nobody knows.  And because nobody knows, everyone is exploring in the same moment.  This exploration is both an independent and interdependent journey.  You must rely on yourselves to be intuitive, smart, brave, and confident, while relying on others to trust you as much as you choose to trust them.  Exploring a frontier is an incredibly empowering experience.  We desire that.  We need that.

The Internet’s incredible expansion and adoption, I think, reflects a deep desire for this frontier, for personal autonomy and freedom.  We feel stifled and oppressed by work, school, society/ culture, family, etc… and the Internet, in its unending freedom, gives us our escape.  When we explore that frontier, we embody a similar spirit that drove people to take boats across oceans and hike west towards the sunset.  Uncharted cyberspace- boundless, with infinite possibilities, is too tempting to resist.

It’s all so fascinating.

But… will it be won?  Can it be won?  Time will tell.

 

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Why are you so surprised when you get a bad teacher?

Most commencement speeches will bombard its graduates with empty phases like “you are the future.”  Virginia Tech tells you to “invent the future.”  We hear them, we read them, and it passes as a “banal platitude”, to borrow David Foster Wallace’s terminology.  But, to our detriment, it is also the simplest, most profound truth that we never seem to learn.

We are the future.

We too often think of the future as something that is going to happen to us.  The fact, the reality, is that we are the future, here and now, and we are creating what we think “happens to us.”  We get angry with people who cheat the system (e.g. Wall Street), but this is learned behavior.  This is not innate.  These people were simply “working” the system.  We get upset and think “how could they… people’s lives were at stake,” but we do the same thing everyday, just on a smaller scale, and nobody really gets hurts.  We are no different.  We work the department, work the professor/ class, work the part-time job… no harm done, right?  We sugarcoat it and call ourselves industrious, diligent, and assertive.  Or we could just be an opportunist.  It’s all based on intent.  Were you thinking about yourselves?  In relation to others?  When we grow up in a system that requires us to “work” the system to our benefit…

Why are we so surprised at the state of our world?

From the very beginning, in school, we perpetuate this behavior.  We think that, as adults, we will outgrow it, but why assume such a thing?  If our educational system is navigated by “working the system,” we have only habituated ourselves to act this way and carry it into our “real world.”  We get angry with professors who don’t “teach.”  Why?  They were students once, doing the same thing that we now do, and as professors, they must continue working the system to get along.  Teaching just becomes another part of the game.  There is no larger picture, and certainly no progression on the scale that it could be.  Moreover, it won’t go away… because if you don’t work the system, someone else will, and you’ll get screwed.

The “tragedy of the commons” is what I see.  We live in our small worlds… everyone wanting his or her piece of the pie.  We focus on grades, levels, AP, IB, GPA, salaries, jobs, relationships, promotions, retirement, etc… but do we notice the commons?  No, we notice the competition.  But, we say, we need a measure of comparison, right?  Perhaps, but what are the consequences?  Where there is a comparison, there is a competition.  Where there is a competition, there will be a winner and a loser.  By all means necessary… be the winner, because you don’t want to be the loser.   This is what our educational system teaches us.  What does that get us?

Don’t be surprised by our future… we created it.  If you want to know what’s in store, look around and observe how people act, and by what means do they reach their ends.  You’ll start to get an idea of what to expect.

 

On a lighter note… relevant words of inspiration… “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”  -Reese Bobby (Talladega Nights)

 

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“Boy, that rabbit hole sure is deep.”

Someone said that to me once.  I responded, “ Well, get out of my way,” as I dove in headfirst.

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It hit me yesterday afternoon.  McCloud asked a very simple question about whether time had to be linear- “But is that necessary?”  And he provided the answer, so obvious that I missed it, so in my face that I failed to see it.  He was sitting on a circle.  A circle!  A circle with no beginning and no end.  It just goes and goes.  In a circle!  Now, I may sound psychotic, and perhaps rightly so, but I honesty think that McCloud was literally “sitting on the answer.”

“Of course it’s not necessary,” he doesn’t say, “And here I am, sitting on a circle of time, proving it to you.”

So many things come from this- I don’t even know where to begin.

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First, how often in life are we simply “sitting on the answer?”  Every time we have a question, we look around at all the pretty pictures, all the commentary, trying to read between the lines, trying to make nothing into something, doing anything but looking at ourselves.  It reminds me of a story that I heard often (forgive me for not knowing its origin).  An old man is sitting on the street, on an old wood box, begging for money.  His whole life, he had dragged this box around, using it to sit on and beg for money.  Always asking other people for money.  One day, a traveller comes passing by, and the old man asked for money.  The traveller said, “Well, what’s in the box?”  The old man said, “Nothing… is just a box.”  “Open it,” the traveller said.  “You’ve never looked inside.”  “What’s the point,” the old man said.  “Just open it,” the traveller said.  The old man gets off the box and pried open the lid.  Inside, the box was full of gold.

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Second, and I bring this up because I get the sense that McCloud is one of those people that think and comprehend on a level that I may never reach, so I don’t think that I am reading too much into this, is that he was hinting at the concept of “wheel of time” or “eternal return.”  While most of the western world views time in a linear fashion, many ancient religions and philosophies (not the Abrahamic religions) viewed time as circular.  It is often symbolized as a snake eating its own tail; this symbol is called the “Ouroboros.”

The differences between these two concepts of time are enormous and the implications of which perception one chooses to live by are even greater.  It was explained to me with marching dominoes (and I’m sure you can find the same story elsewhere).

Which one do you prefer?

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Last, I was talking to my yogi last night about time.  Yes, I have a yogi.  And yes, I discuss Scott McCloud comics with my yogi.  Awesome.  Anyway, he was looking at the comic and simply said “the pictures are all markers (as in, the big moments in life).”  And it hit me again.  A slap in the face.  Yes, there is a reason he didn’t connect the pictures.  Yes, there is a reason he left the circle broken.  Because they are all markers.  Marriage, love, sex, babies, jobs, war,  age, etc… they are the only way we, as humans, have the ability to know that time has passed.  And because we get older, and because we have these markers to act as our time guide, of course and no wonder our lives seem linear.  Everyone gets so caught up in the marker, and we miss the bigger picture…. the circle.  But, what if we removed the markers?  What happens…

Where is the linearity now?  Furthermore, and just to add insult to our obvious blindness, how does the small circle fit into this?  Ah, what an insult it is.  It says (rather mockingly)…   “You know time is circular.  You see it everyday.  You watch the sun rise and set.  You do the same routines everyday.  You complete a circle everyday.  You get up and say, “Well, here’s to another day.”  You say, “ I wish this day could only end.” You say, “There’s always tomorrow.””  Why?  Because we know, time comes back around.  We recognize circular time external to us, but view our lives as external from circular time.  Much like the way we view ourselves separate from “nature,” even though we are nature.  We live in a perception, not reality.  It seems to me that it all boils down to a bunch of circles within circles. Rather recursive if you ask me.

On that note, “Wax on, wax off”… the wise man said.  Doesn’t that sound like another circle?

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I like to envision McCloud, on the completion of that page, chuckling at his intellectual tomfoolery.  “Oh, the simpletons,” he might have thought, “aren’t they in for a treat.”

 

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A Cartoon of Our Thoughts

 

 

 

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Comics Are Instinctual

I think that everyone responds to comics in much of the same way- we enjoy them.  Kids (well, the ones I grew up with) were particularly fond of them.  Adults, on the other hand, have “grown out” of them, or will say they have as they flip to the comics in the Sunday paper before reading anything else.  Drawing pictures that represents some sequence of events has been around as long as Homo sapiens have been around.  Comics evoke, in its own way, a “simultaneous awareness of a complex group of causes and effects.”  They are a dynamic way of presenting information that can simultaneously arouse all the senses, release a flood of emotions, and present complex, interconnected concepts in a moment- all the while maintaining the engagement of the reader.  While this may be a stretch, but one that I know others will relate to… is that while I often fall asleep reading a book (even interesting ones), I cannot recall ever falling asleep reading a comic.

Additionally, I think that comics are instinctual because of this:

This is concept or mind mapping.  Just about everyone I know uses concept mapping to help them understand difficult concepts, relationships, etc…  It is often a great way to explain something to someone else.  It helps to comprehend the bigger picture.  Concept mapping consist of boxes and arrows, and can be related spatially, in movement from one idea to another, and in time.  In other words, concept mapping is a comic.  Before we are taught what concept mapping is, we do this naturally.  For me, it’s no wonder that comics strike a cord with everyone.  Comics seem to represent a very natural, instinctual way that humans learn and process information.  It’s too bad that it seems to be reserved for the funny papers.

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Thinking of Viktor Frankl and Teachers w/ McLuhan

If I understand McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” correctly, then I understand that an external object (defining object loosely), whatever it may be, carries an inherent message that we too often ignore (consciously or not), but are affected by.  No matter what we say or desire, the object, regardless of what content that object carries, can alter our minds.   McLuhan uses media examples, but I think of teachers.

Many of us can remember a good teacher, one that has had great influence in our lives, and not remember much of the content that the teacher taught.  The teacher was a medium for information, but it was the teacher that made all the difference.  The teacher, in that instance, was the message that altered our minds.

That was just one potential example.  There are so many instances that show how objects affect us, whether we care to admit it or not.  In Super Freakonomics or Freakonomics (I cannot recall which one, so read both- I highly recommend it), the authors discovered that simply having books in the home is correlated with test score success of a child.  Not reading the books- simply having the books.  This does not mean that buying a room full of books and putting a child in the middle of it will create a high test-scoring child.  The authors make sure to theorize that having books in the home is likely reflective of the parents’ opinions on education or the general intelligence of the parents and thus the general intelligence of the child.  I’m sure those aforementioned factors are the primary ones.  However, I still do not want to ignore the power of the book itself.  When students go to libraries to study, I think, for most, being surrounded by books gives the students some “message” that empowers them.  It’s one of the same reasons so many people want to study in coffee shops.  Or the reason people worry so much about their home, car, or clothes.  In viewing the coffee shop or library or the objects within those places as a medium, those objects can carry an inherent message that affects us.

Perhaps we should question our strength of mind.

This brings me to Viktor Frankl.  Whenever it comes to strength of mind (and the power of the mind), Dr. Frankl is always invoked.  Surviving three years in the concentration camps, Dr. Frankl wrote that-

“If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life- an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy.  Spiritual life strengthen the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival.”

This was published in “Man’s Search for Meaning.”  This book is interpreted in many different ways for many different purposes, but one of the main interpretations that come from this book is that anyone can have the power to determine how circumstances affect them- and that if one has the strength of mind, one may potentially be impenetrable to external objects.  Of course, I doubt Dr. Frankl would agree with that (as do I), but we, as humans, love our silver bullets and thus created one with Dr. Frankl’s observations.  Think of the phrases “your attitude determines your altitude” or “what we think, we become.”  These sound great and empowering, and most definitely hold some power, but I know no one that has ever been able to “fully” accomplish this.

Why?

Is it because that we live in a world where objects carry their own messages?  That they invoke emotions, actions, decisions that we cannot initially control or understand.  If we live in a world where the medium is a message that “alter(s) sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance,” then where is our strength of mind?  What role does it play?  Are we aware of it?  McLuhan wrote that only “serious artists” are aware of these effects.  Dr. Frankl was too and possessed the strength of mind to moderate those effects.  I think of McLuhan’s reference to Nietzsche’s observation that understanding stops action.  Perhaps the parallel between serious artists and Dr. Frankl was one of understanding.  And that the first step moderating those effects is understanding.

Enough rambling for now…

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